Scholars propose unified global regulations on facial recognition
Four professors from MIT, Harvard, and Oxford propose in an article published on voxdev.org that facial recognition, without global trade regulation, could pose a threat to democracy around the world and help entrench autocratic regimes.
The article was authored by professors Martin Beraja of MIT, David Yang of Harvard University, and Noam Yuchtman of All Souls College, Oxford, along with Andrew Kao, Ph.D. student of economics at Harvard.
In their article, the scholars argue that global trade, including its influence from leading AI innovators, has played a crucial role in fostering democracy worldwide. They quote former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who remarked: “No nation on Earth has discovered a way to import the world’s goods and services while stopping foreign ideas at the border.” However, they also caution that while trade can bring democratic ideas, it can also promote non-democratic ideologies. The professors express concern about the influence of non-democratic countries, like China, on developing nations with significant trade and investment ties. These relationships raise concerns about potential drifts from democratic ideals.
To gain insight into the facial recognition trade, the authors analyzed 1,636 deals from 36 exporting countries to 136 importing countries. Based on this data, they drew several conclusions.
First, they note that China has become a world leader in both AI and facial recognition. As a result, companies in the industry often receive access to the country’s large-scale government datasets. This has given the nation an advantage in facial recognition AI, which is evidenced by the fact that China exports to roughly twice as many countries as the U.S. and has about 10 percent more trade deals.
Additionally, they find that autocracies and weak democracies tend to import facial recognition from China rather than the U.S., especially in years marked by domestic unrest. Chinese surveillance AI imported by autocracies and weak democracies during these episodes correlates with deteriorating election fairness and entrenched non-democratic regimes.
In conclusion, the researchers believe that if the AI technology trade with developing countries remains unchecked, it could lead to negative political repercussions and loss of freedom for citizens in autocratic and developing nations. They recommend that AI regulations be crafted similarly to other currently regulated goods that have the potential for harmful impacts.
An analysis published by the Brooking Institution earlier this year drew similar conclusions about the market advantage China has in selling facial recognition to autocratic governments.